Here's why Brian Kelly expects LSU’s offensive and defensive lines ‘to be strengths’

At the beginning of preseason camp last year, LSU had to figure out its offensive line. The Tigers nearly started from scratch, and other than freshman left tackle Will Campbell, no one had a clear role.
Players moved around with unsettled competitions at almost every spot. Garrett Dellinger, who landed at guard, tried playing center for the first time. Anthony Bradford, another future guard, took snaps at right tackle.
Offensive line coach Brad Davis had to tinker because he didn’t yet know who his best players were, and experimentation lasted into the season. LSU tried five combinations in the first six games, finally settling on one midway through the schedule.
From left, LSU offensive lineman Marlon Martinez (77), LSU defensive tackle Paris Shand (94), LSU running back Noah Cain (21), LSU offensive lineman Garrett Dellinger (72), LSU offensive lineman Will Campbell (66) and LSU defensive end Ovie Oghoufo (17) move at the snap as LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier (13) takes the ball during the spring game, Saturday, April 22, 2023, at Tiger Stadium on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
“We didn't know who the five guys were actually going to be,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “Now, four out of five starters (are) returning.”
Kelly spoke Wednesday to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club, his final public appearance before practice starts Aug. 3, and there was a common theme of progression since his first season.
Most of Kelly's speech focused on building accountability throughout the offseason to go from “great to elite.” But his response to a question about the offensive and defensive lines emphasized another step forward.
“I think we all know and many people recognize how important lines are, offensive and defensive lines,” Kelly said. “We feel those are going to be strengths for us.”
His confidence comes in part from continuity, especially on the offensive line. LSU brought back Campbell, fifth-year senior center Charles Turner, junior left guard Miles Frazier and sophomore right tackle Emery Jones. Dellinger also returned after missing five games with injuries. Bradford, a fourth-round draft pick, was the only starter who left.
All of them went through the Southeastern Conference for the first time as starters last year. Campbell and Jones were the first true freshmen to start at tackle in the same game in LSU history. Frazier had moved inside after transferring from Florida International as a left tackle. Turner was proving he could block larger interior linemen.
The line struggled at times, allowing 45 sacks, the most for an LSU team since at least 2009. But the players gained experience that should translate this fall. The five projected starters now have 73 career starts between them. They entered last season with 16 combined starts, and 11 of them came when Frazier played at FIU.
Changes could still come to the unit. Davis promotes competition to avoid complacency. He signed four freshmen, including five-star tackle Zalance Heard, and likely won’t hesitate to play them. Turner has a looming preseason competition with senior Marlon Martinez. LSU also added Maryland transfer guard Mason Lunsford, helping replenish depth after four backups transferred.
But the starting point looks much more stable.
“When we talk about offensive structures that I like to build, it's physicality up front, and I think we're going to have that this year with returning veteran players, with our strength training and conditioning program into its second season,” Kelly said at SEC media days. “I like where we sit in that position.”
LSU’s defensive line doesn’t share the same amount of continuity. Aside from first-team preseason All-SEC defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo, no other starter came back. Defensive end Ali Gaye, defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy and edge rusher BJ Ojulari all left for the NFL.
But after playing with the most shallow interior rotation in the nation last year, LSU added experienced depth with transfers Jordan Jefferson (West Virginia), Jalen Lee (Florida) and Paris Shand (Arizona).
Most importantly, third-year sophomore defensive tackle Maason Smith has been fully cleared after suffering a torn left ACL on the first defensive series last year against Florida State. Kelly expects Smith, who recorded four sacks in nine games as a freshman, to provide an inside pass rush LSU lacked.
If opposing teams try to double-team him or star linebacker Harold Perkins, the other one should face a one-on-one block.
“We didn't see anything from Maason last year,” Kelly said while naming potential breakout players. “Maason Smith is now going to get a chance to play.”
Kelly also highlighted junior defensive end Sai’vion Jones and Texas transfer edge rusher Ovie Oghoufo. Jones has a chance to replace Gaye after finishing with 4½ sacks last season in limited playing time. Kelly has often complimented Oghoufo, who may start at Jack linebacker. He had 96 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 4½ sacks and six quarterback hurries over the past two years.
“Sai'vion Jones, who did not play a ton last year, just because of depth issue, is an outstanding player from the state of Louisiana,” Kelly said. “We have a transfer in from Texas, Ovie Oghoufo, who's going to step in and be a dynamic player for us. Just a lot of depth.”
And that is depth LSU did not have last season on either side of the line — a key difference, and a sign of progression.
“We like our depth at that position,” Kelly said, “and on the offensive line.”

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